B2B Marketing blog

Knowing more than your competitor: What’s the ROI of buyer insights?

~ The business case for buyer personas ~

According to Adele Revella, author of the book Buyer Personas, marketing surveys have indicated that, within the next couple of years, at least 80 percent of all marketers will be using buyer personas to define their audiences and guide business strategies. Being a B2B marketing strategist myself, I am excited to speak to Adele. She certified me on buyer persona research methods several years ago. Looking at the markets, we bump into many similar B2B marketing questions whether in the US or in Europe. Time to meet up and explore buyer personas. I am most interested in Adele’s view on success factors of buyer personas and the business case of it all.



What is a buyer persona?

“A buyer persona is an example of the people we want to sell a solution to; it’s an example buyer. Having a buyer persona helps you understand how people buy from us or from our competitor. That’s what we want to influence as a marketer.”

What’s the most asked question about buyer personas?

“How many buyer personas do I need; people think about this all the time, do I need, 3 or 10? My answer would be that you need the fewest possible, because the more personas you make, the more ways you have to go to market and that is not realistic.”

If a company sells a great variety of products/services to many types of buyers? Should they then create 30 different buyer personas as well?

“Well, if a company sells many different services or products, we should deal with that from a buyer’s perspective. Thinking about products is too granular. Instead we want to think from a perspective of the buyers: which problems do they want to solve? You might find that a lot of products or solutions in your company go into solving a similar problem. We’re trying to get the buyer’s perspective and when thinking about this from a product point of view, it means we’re still thinking about ‘us’. That’s exactly what we shouldn’t do.”

Do you see a difference in perception about buyer insights or personas between marketers or business owners?

“There’s a big difference in perception and that’s because a company owner is also a different persona for our business. Generally speaking, a marketer understands about personas. Business owners on the other hand don’t care about it at all. So, when we talk to business owners we talk about how to compete.

For most companies competing is about price or about getting our product or solution to be the best or our service to be the best service. Competing on price is not a good idea, but having a good product important. Competing on just a good product is difficult however.

“There’s another and even better way to compete, and that is to understand your buyer better than any of your competitors.”

“To understand what factors make up their decision, what questions they’re asking, so that more than anyone else in your market your sales and marketing efforts are aligned with what the buyer wants to hear, and are responsive to that. So, when talking to business owners we talk about how to best compete. Marketers should keep that in mind when trying to convince their management to invest in personas.”

What’s the biggest challenge for international companies, related to their target buyers? Especially when it relates to a multi-country approach?

“It’s important to start with the buying decision and then look at the people who make it. When we create personas for big global companies, we’ll do interviews in different countries and we’ll see whether the decision makers think alike or not around certain decisions.

Sometimes companies are surprised that even though there can be big differences in culture and personality maybe, when it comes to the decisions they want to influence there are less differences than they expect. Obviously there are differences in information channels across countries. But basically, we have to find out, and that’s why we do qualitative interviews across the countries and we’ll see.”

What’s your tip for marketers who want to start with buyer personas to get the most out of it?

“Start small, don’t try and build buyer personas for every part of your business at once. You want to do a pilot. This pilot should be around an initiative, strategy or goal that is critical to your company, where management is concerned that doing business as usual might not get them where they want to go. Buyer persona insights will help you make better decisions. “

“If you make a buyer persona around part of your business where you are already successful, it’s not going to make the difference. You cannot prove the value.”

“Start in one area, around a market you want to enter, a product you want to launch, a place where competitors are starting to be more successful than you’d like. You biggest effort will be on implementing change around the buyer personas result.”

What’s the biggest pitfall after creating the buyer persona?

“After creating a buyer persona the biggest pitfall is that you don’t execute on it. It happens a lot. Many times we create a persona profile and when you ask six months later what the company has done with it, it turns out that nothing was done. We try to get around it by staying involved in building the messaging and content marketing strategy based on the persona. Marketers know what to do when they have the messaging and content strategy.”

What’s your tip for marketers on how to maintain the personas? What’s the next step? Do we have to update our personas frequently?

“People worry about updating their personas more than they need to. You have to remember that a persona is built around a buying decision, so the only time when you need to update a persona, is when something has changed in the market that would affect the buyer to make a decision. This could be something in the economy, about a competitor or a technology innovation that comes along. So, no you don’t have to worry about updating your personas every six months, it becomes quite clear when you’ll have to do something, the signs will come from the market.”

What’s the business case of investing in buyer personas?

“What’s the ROI of knowing more than your competitors on influencing your buyers’ buying decisions? Some companies are taking a KPI to be measured against. E.g. we want to increase the conversion rate by 2%. That is worth 10 times as much as the investment in the buyer persona research, so the CFO signs it.”

How do you see the future of personas in B2B? What’s you next book about?

“I’m not sure if whether will be a next book, but next venue for personas will be with sales and sales enablement. We have been working a lot with marketers on persona research, messaging and content strategy up to now. Next step should be to make battlecards or a sales playbook for sales people, based on what the personas tell you about what they want to hear. My real vision is to see sales and marketing work more as a team by having a shared understanding of their goal to persuade buyers.”

Want to learn more?

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Ingrid Archer

Ingrid Archer is a marketing and communications professional ‘pur sang’ with more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing and communication. She is co-founder of spotONvision and the B2B Marketing Forum. She initiated successful campaigns in various sectors and is one of the experts in the field of content marketing, buyer personas and lead nurturing in B2B.